On being Martha

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November 16, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 23
Coreena Stewart,

Hospitality makes my heart sing. Preparing a comfortable space, serving up new dishes, conversing with guests and attending to their individual needs: these are among my greatest joys.

Maybe that’s why the story of sisters Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 has always troubled me. I confess that, as one who loves to host, it’s easy to side with Martha, who complains to Jesus that she does all the work while Mary sits at his feet. It’s just as easy to be puzzled by Jesus’ response: “Mary chose the better task.”

Well, that’s fine, Jesus. I know relationships are important, and the foundation of the church and everything, but if we all sit at your feet, who’s going to get the meal ready? And how come Mary gets to enjoy your company while I’m slaving over a hot stove?

Of course, I want to choose the better task, but, honestly, sitting around and taking part in a theological discussion just isn’t where my head—or heart—is at. And I seem to listen better if my hands are busy.

Several years ago, I took part in a Bible study exploring Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanne Weaver. It gave me a slightly different perspective on the situation. Weaver writes that she finds it interesting that “when Jesus corrected Martha, he didn’t say, ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister, Mary?’ He knew Martha would never be Mary, and Mary would never be Martha.”

While the book does explore the pitfalls of perfectionism and busyness, it also verifies some important considerations. Jesus accepts us as we are. He encourages us to use the gifts we’ve been given, and there is room to make choices about how we use them. Weaver’s book helped me realize that the Martha/Mary story isn’t necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition, and it gave me permission to do what I love doing—as long as I’m mindful about why I’m doing it.

When I host, my sole focus is not on the tasks in front of me. It’s also on my guests. As I chop vegetables or check the roast in the oven, I’m listening to the conversation of the guests around me, and even add a comment or two from time to time. As I exercise the gift of hospitality, I remain mindful of the reason for hospitality: a demonstration of Jesus’ love to those around me, a way to build relationships. When I host, I’m not rejecting the “better part” that Jesus talked about. I’m just expressing it in a different way.

To me, this is just one of the beautiful aspects of the Bible. Its stories reflect the lives of so many different kinds of people, people gifted in a wide variety of ways. But no matter what our gifts or talents, or our likes and dislikes, we can navigate faithful living more easily if our actions are hosted by the love of Jesus and a desire to share his love with others.

Coreena Stewart is MC Canada’s chief administrative officer and director of church engagement-administration.

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